1870: Fijian or pidgin Fijian evolves as plantation language in Queensland and Fiji

Fijian began to dominate as a trade language after 1870. After the arrival of large numbers of Pacific Islanders, there were two contenders for the plantation language in Fiji: Melanesian Pidgin English (MPE) and Fijian. Fijian was already used on plantations with Fijian laborers before the importation of Pacific Islanders, and it was known by the European planters and overseers. But MPE was the language of the labor trade, used for recruiting for Fiji, and was known by many of the laborers. Furthermore, varieties of MPE became the plantation languages in Queensland (Dutton 1980), Samoa and New Caledonia (Hollyman 1976), where laborers of similar origins were imported. It was shown in Siegel 1982, however, that Fijian or Pidgin Fijian became the main plantation language in Fiji. Varieties of Fijian rather than English were generally used by the Pacific Islanders in Fiji and by Europeans in communicating with them. The evidence comes from contemporary observations and reports of language use in three contexts: on the plantations, off the plantations (mainly in urban areas and in courts and magisterial inquiries), and back in the laborers home islands.
Use of Fijian on plantations: Most contemporary writers observed that the imported laborers were expected to learn Fijian, and Europeans were expected to use Fijian in
dealing with them. According to Anderson (1880:93-94), the use of Fijian rather than English on the plantations was almost an unwritten policy. He says of Fijian:
. . . the language is by no means difficult to learn -a very con-
venient circumstance to the European settled on one of the
islands, and to the traders especially, as well as to planters,
whose boys wherever they come from the New Hebrides or
elsewhere- require to understand Fijian rather than English
. . . The present system of making Fijian the common language
of the plantations is decidedly the best method”.
An article in the Fiji Times on 16 July 1870 announcing a Fijian language class at Levuka backs up his observation:
A class for the study of the Fijian language would be both prac-
ticable and useful. To many it could save the cost of an inter-
preter, and any planter who can speak the language of his Polynesian labourers has an immense advantage over one that can make himself understood by signs or through a native who
knows as much of English as his employer knows of Fijian.
Thus, Forbes (1875:65) writes:” Any whiteman who has some experience in a plantation and can talk a smattering of the Fijian language is worth at least 50 pounds a year with rations and a house. And the following advertisement appeared in the Fiji Times on 7 June 1871:
WANTED, Two Overseers for cotton plantations-must have thorough knowledge of Fiji language. Apply P. J., at T. War- burton and Co. Levuka.
A letter from a plantation owner to the governor (CSO 1550/1887) shows that even later in the plantation era, after more than 20,000 Pacific Islanders had come to Fiji, laborers were still expected to learn Fijian: While making every allowance for the ignorance of these men, it is impossible to pass over in silence or unnoticed instances of
misbehaviour, where especially a Polynesian has been suffi- ciently long upon the estate, or in Fiji, to be acquainted with
the Fijian language such at any rate as to prevent his plea of not understanding to hold good as an excuse.

It is clear that some recruiters also spoke to the islanders in “Melesian Pidgin English, or “Sandalwood English” )MPE, as in the following quoted speech of the recruiter (first mate) on the Bobtail Nag (Giles 1968:41n):
Yes, suppose you let him some boy go along Queensland, we buy him altogether [yams], my word, good fellow. Very
good, you let him boy come, good fellow place, he no no
work along a sugar, you savey, he work along bully-me-
cow . . .

Evidence exists to show that MPE was also used in recruiting for Fiji. The government agent on the Oamaru writes: “While I had an Inter preter I told him to inform intending Recruits and when I had not, I done the best I could in broken English”
(Fiji Immigration Department:

Examples of recruiting language: Here are some examples relating to early recruiting specifically for Fiji. The first ones are from testimony given in 1869 by recruits who
arrived in Fiji on the schooner Daphne (GBPP 1871, XLVIII, 468). Some potential recruits say:

No, no like go ship. But the captain of the Daphne, Lemoin, replies:
No, no, you stop ship, by and by you come back . . .
Later Charlie, a native of Amota Lava [Mota Lava] who speaks
English(and a well-known recruiter in the labor trade), says:
You no go long way, you stop Tanna, bye and bye you come

But once in Tanna, Lemoin says:
Plenty men here, you go Fiji.
John B. Thurston also used English with MPE features to recruit laborers during a voyage to Vanuatu, as shown in the following exam- ples from his journal. He asked one man (Thurston 1871:16):
Well, what name you got?
Later he says of one prospective recruit (ibid.:53):
Learning that Taveuni was a place close up salt water he
appeared to pleased, but he declined himself to visit the
Garden of Fiji. Forbes (1875:251) gives the following more detailed account: “Sometimes curious dialogues, unintelligible as the pigeon English of Shanghai to the uninitiated, take place between the trader and the native, thus;

Loquitur Trader: You likee come work Fiji?
Native: Me no savy
T.: Fiji very good. Plenty kai-kai bull-y-macow (beef to
eat); big fellow yam, big fellow cocoa-nut; very good Fiji
N.: How many yam (years)? Too muchy work Fiji; no

T. (holding up four fingers): spose you come by-and-by?
Tanna man plenty trade, muskets, powder, plenty sulu
(waist cloth)

N.: Me go; very good. Small fellow ship-a-ship no likee;
me go next time.

These examples also include additional features of MPE from Clark’s list: stop meaning (at a place); by and by used as a future tense marker; plenty as a quantifier; many, much, what name for”what”; got for have; and kai-kai meaning food. Other features not listed by Clark are close up meaning near; salt water used for sea, and sulu meaning waistcloth and sarong.. This last item is actually from the Fijian isulu; cloth, but it was commonly used in MPE (see Churchill 1911:50).

Pacific Studies, Vol. 9, No. 3 July 1986


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